Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Security fencing for Valley Forge Middle School, TE Middle School and Conestoga High School – TE School District seeks variance to construct 6-foot fence

fencing 1During 2014, 5-foot high chain link fencing was installed around TESD’s five elementary schools – Beaumont, New Eagle, Valley Forge, Hillside and Devon. Sandy Hook and other school shootings pushed the issue of school security into the limelight and the elementary school fencing project was one of the security upgrades recommended by the District’s Safety Committee.

The construction of the elementary school security fencing project was not without controversy. Residents opposed the District’s decision to fence the elementary school for a variety of reasons. Some suggested that the fencing would make it more difficult for children to evacuate in emergencies — concern that they could become trapped inside the property by the fencing and that the fencing could slow emergency aid. Others cited inconvenience; aesthetics and monetary cost (approximately $220K) in their opposition to the fencing and some questioned if the District obtained the required building permits. In the end, the elementary schools received their security fencing last year.

Apparently, the District’s fencing project was not contained to the elementary schools. A surprise to some, security fencing is planned for Valley Forge Middle School, TE Middle School and Conestoga High School. At the October 27, 2014 TE School Board meeting, the school board approved Daley & Jalboot’s 2015 infrastructure implementation fee proposal on the consent agenda. Included in the architect’s project was Project #1405, the installation of perimeter site fencing at the three schools. Daley & Jalboot’s fee is $$8,600 and they estimate the construction costs at $236K.

The security-fencing project of the middle schools and high school is out for bid and construction is set to start June 24 with completion by the start of school in September.

Unlike the elementary school fencing project in 2014, the District has a hurdle to get over before they can move forward. The District’s plan to construct a 6-foot chain link fence at Valley Forge Middle School and TE Middle School requires a variance from the Zoning Hearing Board. Tredyffrin Township’s Zoning Hearing Board will hear these two appeals tonight at 7 PM and residents are encouraged to attend and provide comments.

The proposed chain link fencing at Valley Forge Middle School may be a challenge for the Zoning Hearing Board. The school is in Chesterbrook, a planned community of 28 villages, and each of the villages is independently managed by homeowners associations and governed by specific bylaws. The Chesterbrook village of Green Hills (single family homes) is adjacent to Valley Forge Middle School. The plan for VFMS fencing is along Valley Forge Road and on the shared property line with Green Hills. Because the proposed chain link fencing is not consistent with the homeowner association bylaws of Green Hills, and an earlier agreement between these homeowners and the school board regarding development, the approval for the variance may not be a given for the school district.

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  1. A 6 foot chain link fence will not deter a predator especially since there are openings. It will corral the children in a evacuation and they are an eye sore as they age. They are difficult to mow around. There is nothing logical about this. We are making our schools look like prisons. We in Green Hills cannot have fencing and would like to maintain the integrity of our community rules and regulations. This doesn’t even begin to address the unnecessary cost it would incur.

  2. These fencing projects would have happened but someone from Tredyffrin Township stopped the district ( as Pattye states the bids are out) and made them go through to Zoning. This revelation about VFMS explains why the district supervisor, lawyer & Tom Daley were at the township building Tuesday morning .
    When I saw the fence plans for TEMS on Jan 9 at Faciliites I insisted that TE contact Zimmerman totally impacts this historic property. ..not done as of Tuesday Jan 20 … Mr McDonnell had almost 2 weeks to do this.
    What kind of safety expert came up with putting a 6 ft high black chain link fence against a 4 ft high designer white picket ..when an open driveway is right there???
    Message to TESD ..drop the “good neighbor” line’re not.

    1. For those that may not know, Peter Zimmerman’s architectural firm is on Old Lancaster Ave., right next door to the TEMS. Peter Zimmerman Architect office is a charming 3-story 18th century building with a white picket fence.

  3. There’s already a fence along Chesterbrook Blvd & the back of Green Hills (rear of VFMS) – why the need for another fence? TESD is just spending more taxpayer $$$ and we, the taxpayers, go along with their annual tax increases.

  4. Our neighbors in green hills frequently use the walking path that cuts through VFMS. I would rather see members of th community out and about than more fencing put up. More eyes in the community promotes a safer area. This is a waste and an eye sore.

  5. I’ve lived in this area for over forty years and attended VFMS (previously as VF Jr High). I’m interested in what problem this fence is solving. There is always the chance of a predator coming on the property whether there is a fence or not. I highly doubt that the existence of a fence enters into their thought process. Plus it’s not like the gates will be locked so what safety issue is it addressing? More thought needs to go into why the fence needs to be installed in general and specifically along the neighborhood property line. The school district should take the $200k+ and give that to the teachers or kids programs in the district-not some fence that adds no value, is seen as a nuisance/infringement on property rights and doesn’t address any safety issue whatsoever.

  6. Out of control. spending … last night at Zoning .I learned that at TEMS one section of fence is not for safety but to mark the school’s boundary line. in case the owner ever tears his fence down…really ???.
    TESD use our tax .money for education NOT useless projects.!!!!!

    1. Yes, I attended the Zoning Hearing Board meeting. The ZHB decision on the TEMS fencing will be given at the February meeting. We learned from Pete Zimmerman, the owner of the adjacent historic building, that he was never notified of the 6 ft. fencing project. He has a 4 ft. white picket fence and the District is proposing to put a 6-ft. fence next to it – with less than 12 inches between his fence and the proposed fence. When a ZHB member asked the District’s attorney from Saul Ewing and Tom Daley (of Daley & Jaboot) what would happen if the ZHB didn’t approve the 6 ft. fence, the response was “we will replace the 4 ft. fence with a 4 ft. fence”. What?

      When asked why they needed a 6-ft. fence around the outside eating area (it is currently 4-ft.), the response from the attorney was that an outsider could reach over the 4-ft. fence and take a child. These kids are middle school — 11, 12, 13 yr. old!

      When the District’s attorney and Daley were asked why did the District want to put a fence in next to the Zimmerman’s white picket fence, the response was to “mark the property line”. What kind of reason is that?

      Both Pete Zimmerman and a resident of Old Lancaster Ave. both made the point that if security was such a concern to the District, why is the gate always left open to the eating area. There was no response to those statements. The Zoning Hearing Board did a great job of asking many of the questions that residents have about the proposed fencing project.

      Another fascinating remark from the District attorney (or the District architect, not sure which one) was “why” were the elementary schools fenced at 5-ft. height whereas the middle schools plan is for 6-ft. high fence. — the response was that after they put the 5-ft. fences in at the elementary schools, the District received some comments that maybe they should have been 6-ft. instead of 5-ft.!! Isn’t research done before the projects are designed and built?? The cost of the fencing at the elementary schools was $225K — so now they are saying they should have been 6-ft. instead of 5-ft. Wow, wow, wow. Unbelievable.

      The room was filled with Chesterbrook residents for the Valley Forge Middle School fencing variance request. However, that variance request is now rescheduled to February because the attorney for Chesterbrook residents was attending another hearing and unable to attend last night. The District attorney did say that they don’t need approval to build the fencing next to the Green Hills houses if they move the fencing in from the property line onto District property. It doesn’t look like the Green Hills residents are going to see it his way. The variance request is required for the 6-ft. fencing along the Valley Forge Road side of VFMS.

      To be clear, the District has paid $8,600 for the Daley & Jaboot fencing plans at the middle schools and I’m guessing that cost does not include the additional expense of Saul Ewing attorney and Tom Daley to show up at multiple Zoning Hearing Board meetings. I’m sure that is additional costs to the District.

    2. My daughter shared your post on Facebook and you won’t believe the number of likes, comments and shares it’s getting among current and former TE students!

      Some of the comments…

      “Yeah, like a 6 foot fence ever stopped a psychopathic killer from shooting up a school. Our district is smoking crack. Such a waste of money”

      “Waste of money. There are so many other things they could be putting it towards…”

      “Why dont we have outlook towers with full time sharpshooters on each corner to make sure no bad guys get in. Also eyeball scanners to open the door”

      “Yay, more of the tax payers money going down the drain. What a joke lol that’s not going to stop anything.”

  7. I am curious about the thought process by the Facilities folks not only for even considering such a proposal — BUT also as to the height of the fences at the middle schools and high school versus the fences at the elementary schools. Now I know that that the children in the elementary schools are “shorter” than the students at the upper schools…. but are the BAD guys shorter as well when deciding to attack a school.
    This is as inane as the parking lot at the middle school — the tennis quarts at VF elementary and the decision to move the administration folks to West Valley Road.
    Yes we need fencing around 3 sides of the property — AND it needs to be foot higher than the fencing at the middle school. The kids are taller — but the bad guys?

  8. What I found most curious at the Zoning Hearing is that the School’s attorney didn’t call any expert witness in safety to explain why the fence and variance are needed. They completely failed to make their case and succeeded in highlighting the foolishness and frivolousness of this expensive project.

    Bravo to the Township for finally questioning the zoning violations of the School Board Facilities Committee. The Facilities Committee has had its way for too long. They may shout down the public at their meetings but now some of their projects will get additional airing and be available on public record.

  9. Since when is a 5 or 6′ fence going to keep out someone who is psychotic and hell bent on getting in?
    This is a waste of the taxpayers money and a terribly unattractive eyesore. Cyclone fences don’t belong in our community (except where no one can see them)
    I have no confidence.

  10. I believe that TESD managers are primarily concerned with marking their territory . This belief comes from our experience during the VFES tennis courts debate, and the lock they put on the courts to make their point. Very unnecessary.

    When it comes to chain link fences around our school properties for security purposes, I believe the cons outweigh the pros. As others have noted, they will limit egress in times of emergency. They will force students to walk/run along the fence line to find an exit, which could make them easier targets. They are easily-scaled by ne’er-do-wells. And, they are prone to be vandalized. … I believe that an attacker is more likely to drive to the school. So, will the parking lots be fenced in?

    We live in a nice area. Our community has provided the schools with large park-like properties (non more-so than VFMS). Now, this generation’s TESD management want to put up chain link fences. This would make the environment uglier, and change the atmosphere for our students. A chain link fence along VFMS’ property line on VF Road would make it look like a prison! And, it will detract from our sense of community, while providing marginal benefit. I hope and trust that the township government – if not the school board – can represent the community and do something about this.

  11. I agree that the fence is probably not a true deterrent and would probably be ugly, I’m a huge proponent of open-space. However, didn’t this idea originate from the report from the security analyst after the Sandy Hook stuff? Didn’t they have to hold those meetings in an auditorium b/c of capacity issues, you people are so reactionary. Imagine if they didn’t put up the fence and something did happen, you would all be complaining about why they didn’t follow the security analyst advice.

    1. If the fences were recommended by the safety expert, why was the recommendation for five foot height for elementary schools and six foot height for middle schools? I have a son at VFES and a daughter VFMS. Is my son less safe because the fence is 5 ft. high at his school than my daughter will be if they approve the 6 ft. fence at her school. makes no sense

  12. An update from the February 3rd School Board meeting:

    During a response to a resident question at the very end of the meeting it was mentioned that the District has withdrawn its request for variances from the Tredyffrin Township zoning ordinances. Dr Motel then stated that the fencing project will “proceed without variances” and that it would be discussed at the next Facilities Committee (2/13/2015, 2pm).

    Clearly, some second thoughts about the height required.

  13. This fencing project only applies to TEMS..the district may put in a 4ft fence ( no variance required) Bidders did a walk through yesterday afternoon this isn’t over yet.

    1. Thanks CHV for this clarification. Pattye’s story detailed a plan to fence in VFMS (and Conestoga), in addition to TEMS. Hope you’re correct!

      A 4′ fence provides even-more-questionable benefit, at taxpayer expense. To (badly) paraphrase Joni Mitchell, “they fenced in paradise and made it (look like) a juvenile detention center”.

      1. To be clear, the fencing project is for both middle schools and the high school. A variance request was sought by the District because they were seeking relief from the Township’s height restriction on the fencing. If the District uses 4 ft. fencing at the schools, it does not require a variance. The Facilities Committee meeting has the fencing at the middle schools and the high school on this Friday’s agenda.

    1. The School Board withdrew their application seeking 6-ft high fence variance from the township. I think the total expense over the variance request, including legal fees, etc. was $100K (to the taxpayer!). However, just because they removed the variance request does not mean that the School District cannot build 4-ft fences without a variance, which is now the plan. At Monday’s School Board meeting, there was much discussion about the proposed fencing between VF Middle School and Chesterbrook homeowners, the legalities, etc. etc.

      Although it appears that the School District plans to forge ahead on those fences, members of the School Board have agreed to meet with the ‘abutters’ — those homeowners whose houses abut the TESD property. What I don’t get is that it has been announced by the School District that some of the proposed fencing is not necessarily for security reasons but to ‘mark’ their property. I just don’t get why the taxpayers need to pay to ‘mark’ the territory of the School District — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Unless there’s a problem with neighbors (and I have never heard that stated) then why all of a sudden is it so important to mark the property boundaries. Ugh.

    1. The $100K cost was announced at Facilities Committee meeting. Even though the application was withdrawn, that was after the Zoning Hearing Board heard the case. There was application fees to the Township and costs to go in front of the ZHB, attorney and architect costs to prep for ZHB hearing and then a cost for them to attend and make the case, design drawings, etc. etc. All of these costs add up.

      1. How much could the application fees to the Township possibly cost? And how much could it be to go in front of the ZHB?

        This is so ridiculous. $100,000 on this when we’re outsourcing aides and paras.

        How can we find out how much of the $100,000 charge to taxpayers went to the attorney, who works against the taxpayers who pay his fees, and the architect?

        The facilities chair should question these costs.

  14. In stead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on fencing, it would be better to fund programs that teach conflict resolution, anti-bullying, anger management, and emotional intelligence

    If an attacker is intent upon harming others, fencing presents a relatively ineffective safe guard. . Instead, experts believe we need to address the root causes of the problem: bullying, a lack of a respectful environment, and despair and depression in students.

  15. No, Art doesn’t respond to my questions. Do you know the name of the new controller? He should have responsibility for paying bills and issuing checks.

  16. In addition to the many valid points below regarding the agreements that have been breached by the School Board and the so very avoidable decrease to our property values, I have not seen a lot of discussion about the absolutely devastating impact this will have on the children who use these paths to walk to and from school.

    My spouse and I both work full time as do many residents. While we have bus service, the bus comes very late and bareky gets the kids to school in time for the kids to settle before Homeroom. IN ADDITION, many of our children have activities before school as well as after school sports almost the ENTIRE year.

    There is no bus service for these activities for the hundreds of kids who use the paths to walk to and from school and there are NO SIDEWALKS ON EITHER SIDE OF VF ROAD!

    If the fence is inadvertantly locked or the facilities crew forgets to unlock it – how will the children who have to walk to school or home, get home? They will have to literally walk ON VF Road in the middle of traffic. How can this possibly be safer than a fence at the very back perimeter of the middle school behind what was a significantly high, thick and already impassable natural barrier?

    There is a higher risk now that the many children who will have to walk ON the highway of VF Road will be struck by a car or approached by a car with nowhere to run, than there will be an intruder cutting through the chain link fence that is then a literal 5-10 minute walk to the actual school building.

    Does that seem at all troubling to anyone?

  17. Yes, this is an excellent last minute point that seems extremely troubling to me, and should be inserted at the top of the list of reasons this idea of fencing, to mark school district property lines, is a really bad one. Thank-you for pointing it out.


  18. Before we spend more hundreds of thousands on fencing to enhance school security, here is a more immediate and cheaper way. There are no requirements for substitute teachers to present ID upon entering a school. My neighbor recently began substitute teaching at the middle school and high school levels in both Tredyffrin and Radnor school districts. At no time, and at no time was she asked for any form of ID – even a drivers license. Simply show up, say you are there to sub and try not to look like a terrorist. They will even give you a key to the elevator so you can get around faster. Now wouldn’t it be easier for a “bad person” to simply walk in the front door vs. climbing a fence. A no brainier decision – even one the school board could grasp!

  19. There is a School Board election coming up shortly. Do we know how the candidates stand on the VFMS fence issue? Let’s speak with our votes as they don’t seem to listen to our words.

    1. Someone correct me if I wrong. All the School Board Directors voted yes for the fencing.

      1. You know that’s an interesting question — all the elementary schools received their fencing during the summer of 20214. The elementary school fencing was paced around three sides, not the front. Because the 4 ft. fences on back and side yards do not require zoning variances, they didn’t seem to get the same attention as the middle schools where variance was sought for higher fences. I don’t remember a public discussion about fencing as a concept — I’m not saying that it didn’t occur, I just don’t recall it. If there was discussion on fencing, it would have been during 2013 or early 2014 for the fencing to have gone in during the summer of 2014. At some point a vote must have been taken by the Board but if the fencing decision was listed as a consent agenda item it would not have had public discussion. Perhaps Ray Clarke has recall on when the vote occurred …

        1. The standard modus operandi for Facilities projects is to manage the bidding process in the Committee: authorize the request for bids, open the bids, approve the bids. Then the recommended bid is placed on the Consent Agenda. The rationale for the expenditure may be discussed during the first step, but of course that’s not by the full Board and often the spending is taken as given.

          So in the case of the fencing, the full Board will have voted to accept the bid, but I don’t recall any explicit full Board discussion of the reason for the project.

  20. From:

    Reconsideration of District Safety Consultant, Andy Chambers: Former police chief Andy Chambers attended the TESD meeting last night. Chambers offered no comment; however Superintendent Waters defended his choice in Chambers, offering a list of his qualifications, and firmly stating that the hiring was not cronyism as some in the public had suggested. TESD solicitor Ken Roos stated that he was of the opinion that the Board had not violated the Sunshine Act with the consent agenda approval of January 7 to hire Chambers. However, Roos recommended the ‘reconsideration’ of Chambers so as to avoid possible legal costs to the District, if the Board’s January 7 action was legally pursued.

    There was no mention from Waters, Roos or the Board members with regards to the issues surrounding Chambers departure from the Tredyffrin Twp Police Department.

    Although all members of the Board supported Chambers as qualified to serve as District Safety Consultant, two Directors voted against his hiring. Using the lack of transparency in the process as reason, Anne Crowley and Rich Brake did not vote with their fellow board members to hire Chambers. Crowley read a prepared statement, saying that although Chambers’ was qualified; she spoke of the need for transparency and that other candidates (besides Chambers) should have been reviewed in the process. Chambers was approved as District Safety Consultant 7-2.
    I’m assuming fencing was one of the recommendations stated in the Chambers report. Has anyone read the Chambers report?

    1. If Chambers report is also called the District’s ‘Safety Report’, the answer is no, that the report was not made public. At least one citizen’s right-to-know request for the Safety Report was denied — stating that to make public the Safety Report would be a breach of security. It is unclear exactly what was stated in the Safety Report. If fencing was suggested in the report as a safety measure, I cannot believe it would have stated that 4-ft was the desired height to deter.

  21. Breach of security is being used as an excuse to withhold access to underlying data which might help explain the rationale for this action.

  22. I’m glad they are going to put the fence up around the school, you can never be too safe. With as many things that have been happening at schools lately, they seem a lot like a target. I think the fence will really deter anyone who would want hurt people, and it’ll keep the kids safe inside.

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